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An Air Algerie flight that went missing en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers with 116 people on board including 50 French nationals has crashed, an Algerian aviation official said today.
Air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair MD-83 around 50 minutes into the flight after the crew reportedly asked to change course due to a storm.
The plane, which is operated by Air Algerie, was last picked up on radar at 1.55am GMT and should have landed in the Algerian capital around three hours later.
'I can confirm that it has crashed,' the official said, declining to give details of where the plane was or what caused the accident, although it very likely went down in the Sahara desert.
It comes after a treacherous week for the aviation industry in which 298 people were killed when Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane was shot down over Ukraine and 48 people died in a crash in Taiwan.
Airlines have also cancelled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.
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Vanished: Air navigation services lost track of a Swiftair MD-83 passenger plane (like one above) carrying 110 passengers and six crew members after it disappeared off the radar on its way to Algiers
The list of passengers includes 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians and five Canadians.
There were also four Germans, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgium, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.
The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.
The flight path of AH5017 from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers was not immediately clear.
Two French fighter jets based in the region have been dispatched to try to locate the airliner along its probable route, a French army spokesman said.
Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedragor said the flight had been asked to change route because of a storm around 30 minutes after taking off.
Fateful path: Contact was lost with flight AH 5017 while it was still in Malian air space approaching the border with Algeria after taking off from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso
Danger zones: This graphic shows the areas which U.S. airlines have been banned from flying from or warned to avoid by the Federal Aviation Administration because of conflicts
Spanish airline company Swiftair has a relatively clean safety record, with five accidents since 1977, two of which caused a total of eight deaths, according to the Washington-based Flight Safety Foundation.
The MD-83 aircraft which crashed in north Africa is believed to be around 18 years old and one of four owned by the company.
The model is part of a series of jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S. plane maker now owned by Boeing.
The jet's two engines are made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.
McDonnell Douglas stopped producing the MD-80 airliner family in 1999, but it remains in widespread use.
According to British consultancy Flightglobal Ascend, there are 482 MD-80 aircraft in operation, many of them in the United States.
A source from Air Algerie told the AFP news agency said contact was lost while it was still in Malian air space approaching the border with Algeria.
The source said: 'The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route.
'Contact was lost after the change of course.'
A diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako said that the north of the country - which lies on the plane's likely flight path - was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.
The American Federal Aviation Authority recently warned U.S. airlines that Mali was a 'high risk' area for commercial routes due to civil war in the country.
Despite international military intervention still under way, the situation remains unstable in northern Mali, which was seized by jihadist groups for several months in 2012.
On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal, and with parts of the country still mired in conflict.
Waiting for information: Journalists gather outside the Swiftair offices in Madrid after one of its planes operated by Air Algerie disappeared over Malian airspace in north Africa
But a senior French official said it was unlikely that fighters in Mali had weaponry that could shoot down a plane.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fighters have shoulder-fired weapons which could not hit an aircraft at cruising altitude.
Issa Saly Maiga, head of Mali's National Civil Aviation Agency, said that a search was under way for the missing flight.
'We do not know if the plane is Malian territory.
'Aviation authorities are mobilised in all the countries concerned - Burkina Faso, Mali, N****, Algeria and even Spain.'
Air Algerie announced that the plane, which is owned by Spanish private airline Swiftair, had gone missing in a brief statement carried by national news agency APS.
It added that the company initiated an 'emergency plan' in the search for flight AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.
Lost contact: Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 1.17am GMT
The MD-83 is part of a series of long-range jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S. plane maker now owned by Boeing.
The crash comes as a recovery operation got underway in Taiwan to remove plane seats and fuselage from homes after yesterday's plane crash which killed 48 people.
Today the airline announced that stormy weather trailing behind a typhoon was the likely cause of the crash which also left ten people on the plane injured and five on the ground.
The ATR-72 operated by Taiwan's TransAsia Airways was carrying 58 passengers and crew when it crashed while trying to land in the Penghu island chain in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China.
Meanwhile, an international investigation has been launched after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Concerns were first raised about the plane when it disappeared from radar screens while passing over the city of Donetsk last Thursday.
The plane was travelling at 33,000 feet on a pre-determined flight path when it suddenly vanished from trackers, immediately notifying air traffic controllers of the prospect that the plane had either crashed or made an emergency landing.
An Air Algerie office in Paris. The company initiated an 'emergency plan' in the search for flight AH5017
Flight radars generally monitor moving objects only, so if an aircraft disappears from the screens it either means the plane has become stationary or there has been a fault with the tracking system.
Tragically in the case of MH17 the former was true - but it wasn’t until body parts and plane wreckage were spotted scattered over an eight square-mile area in eastern Ukraine that a crash could be officially confirmed.
In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the latter was the true, where it is believed the radar transponder system was deliberately turned off by someone on board.
That plane is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people on board, but the wreckage has never been found and the cause of the disaster is unknown.
One of Algeria's worst air disasters occurred in February this year, when a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.
Tamanrasset in the deep south was the site of the country's worst ever civilian air disaster, in March 2003.
In that accident, all but one of 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.
The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was critically injured.